Whenever acts of violence arise from a political, social, or cultural dispute, condemnation of one party to the dispute tends to provoke scepticism as to whether other parties are receiving equal scrutiny. Feelings being what they are, the suspicion runs deep, but is sometimes more emotional than factual.
That said, when condemnations of acts of violence appear to be unfairly "selective", selective as to victim and perpetrator, what was once mere skepticism of a one-sided anti-violence discourse takes on new life as fact.
What transpired on Thursday, August 5, 2021 was appalling by any standard. The wanton disregard by the alleged perpetrator, for the safety of the Prime Minister and members of the public, in hurling a missile into a crowd, was also frightening in and of itself and has rightly been denounced across the board. That someone felt emboldened to commit such an act in broad daylight and in the presence of armed police officers, seemingly without fear of the consequences, is perhaps even more frightening for what it demonstrates about what the Vincentian society has become.
We are no longer a community-spirited people. We have ceased to care about each other in the most basic of ways. Confidence in, and respect for, those in positions of authority, the Police, our institutions and the rule of law have all but disappeared. Sadly, we have allowed politics and harmful rhetoric to dictate our thoughts, reasoning and judgment and to hamper and, in some cases, destroy our relationships with one another.
The wide chasm that now sits comfortably between the yellows and the reds is, unfortunately, representative of the landscape of today’s Vincentian society. The headline-making events over the past four months have thrown into sharp focus the cause and effect of, what I choose to call, consistent inconsistency, more specifically, the dangerous practice of singling out some individuals for condemnation, whilst others escape censure for similar or worse acts.
The collective outrage that was voiced in Parliament on the night of Thursday, August 5, 2021, at the cowardly act of violence levelled at the Prime Minister earlier that day, was understandable and certainly warranted. The outrage by some was, however, difficult to reconcile with the deafening silence of those very same voices months earlier when Mr. Cornelius John was shot.
The harsh and unfair attacks that were launched by Government Ministers at the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament for failing to condemn, within a time frame acceptable to them, the violence that had transpired earlier that day was, to say the least, disingenuous. If to be outraged is to be instinctively incensed by something that offends your sense of right and wrong, how can anyone justify being outraged by the crime against the Prime Minister and not the crime against Mr. John? Is outrage reserved for offences against a select few victims and condemnation inappropriate in the case of certain alleged perpetrators? How can one chastise the Leader of the Opposition for failing to condemn within hours of the event when we are still waiting for even one Government Minister to condemn the shooting of Mr. John four months on? What accounts for the disparity between the efficiency and fervour of the Police in searching the homes of multiple individuals affiliated with the Opposition for guns and ammunition within 48 hours of the Prime Minister sustaining his injury, and the apparent lethargy exhibited in investigating Mr. John’s shooting?
The answer, unfortunately, appears to lie in the shortsightedness of many who hold positions of authority, who unashamedly turn a blind eye to infractions by their own while crucifying those perceived to be against them. What they fail to realize, however, is that their hypocritical inconsistency is highly corrosive of the confidence, respect and trust that the electorate has for them. Even the most popular of politicians will lose support when their utterances on matters of public interest are inconsistent. However, losing support should be the least of their worries. The escalation in gun crimes, the highhanded behaviour of the Police and the apparent disdain for the rule of law are the dire consequences our country faces because of the consistent inconsistency of those in positions of authority.
“Put yourself in Mr. John’s position”, “What if Mr. John was your relative”, “If I were Mr. John, I would want people to speak out for me”, “If the shoe were on the other foot, you would have plenty to say”. These were just a few of the exhortations of those who voiced their concerns over the way the incident involving Mr. John was handled. Perhaps those who now readily denounce the attack on the Prime Minister and vociferously call for swift justice will finally understand what it means to put themselves in Mr. John’s shoes.
Evenhandedness in the treatment of criminal conduct in our fractured Vincentian society may seem a daunting challenge, but it is not unattainable. This ideal can be achieved, once each and every stakeholder in the criminal justice system, be they Parliamentarians, the Police, the Office of the DPP or civil society leaders, acknowledges that partisan politics and meaningless rhetoric have no part to play in the national discourse on violence, and criminal conduct in any shape or form must be called out for what it is and dealt with appropriately.
As members of society, we perhaps have the most critical role to play, by abandoning party political tribalism, reclaiming our independence of mind and finding our way back to the simple basic tenet that right is right and wrong is wrong. We can do it.
Zhinga Horne Edwards